Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Preterist Archive: Martin Luther's Attitude Toward The Jews

The Preterist Archive has resurrected one of my old papers: Martin Luther's Attitude Toward The Jews (2005).  I appreciate that! for the last few years, the paper has only been available via the Internet Archive. No, I'm not a Preterist (as the term is popularly understood), but the Preterist Archive does in fact have some very useful research and materials available, whatever one's eschatological underpinnings may be. I stand amazed at how long the site has been going and how often it's updated. It certainly appears to be a true labor of love on behalf of the site's owner.

The paper was a personal research project. The materials used at the time were largely those found in a number of libraries, particularly Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).  Originally, the paper was hosted on Eric Svendsen's NTR.Min.org (still available via the Internet Archive). Svendsen took his site down some time around 2009-2010 (see my comments here).

Since 2005, there's been quite an online information explosion! I wonder what my paper would be like now if I were to compose it again. My position on Luther's attitude towards the Jews is still basically the same as that presented in 2005. However, over the years my position has changed as to whether or not Luther himself was an anti-Semite.

There have been a number of researchers who conclude Luther's later anti-Jewish tracts were written from a position different than current (or modern-day) Antisemitism. Luther was born into a society that was anti-Judaic, but it was not the current anti-Judaic type of society that bases it racism on biological factors. Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society. He had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ. If one frames the issues with these categories, Luther was not Antisemitic.

Post World War II though, there has been much discussion about the nuances and etymology of the term Antisemitism. The contemporary use of the word "Antisemitism" does not typically have its distinction from anti-Judaism considered. The word now has a more broad meaning including anti-Judaism. The debate centers around whether the evolved use of the term is a significant step towards describing previous history or if it's setting up an anachronistic standard for evaluating previous history [see my entry here in regard to Eric Gritsch, Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012)]. As I've looked at this issue from time to time, I'm thinking more along the lines of Gritsch's revised view rather than what I wrote back in 2005. I accept the modern definition of Antisemitism, and I think that it does include anti-Judaism. While Luther may have been primarily against the religion of Judaism, his harsh recommendations could have effected Jewish people as human beings as well.